Understanding IEC 81001-5-1 : Cybersecurity in Medical Devices


IEC 81001-5-1 is a recent cybersecurity standard that is set to be recognized as a harmonized standard under the MDR by 2024. The standard outlines life cycle requirements that cover the entire span of health software, from development through maintenance and establishes a framework of processes, activities, and tasks designed to secure these life cycle processes.

Adherence to IEC 81001-5-1 can offer medtech startups a competitive edge, attracting investors, customers, and partners who prioritize security and compliance. In today's dynamic landscape of medical device security, awareness of standards like IEC 81001-5-1 empowers medtech startups to navigate the complex landscape of medical device security with confidence, ensuring their products are safe, secure, and compliant with regulatory standards.

What is IEC 81001-5-1?

IEC 81001-5-1 "Health software and health IT systems safety, effectiveness and security - Part 5-1: Security - Activities in the product lifecycle" provides guidelines for managing security risks throughout the software lifecycle, from design to continuous assessment and testing.

The standard aims to close critical security gaps and ensure the safety, effectiveness, and security of health software used in healthcare - which includes Software as a Medical Device (SAMD) as well as other health IT systems that support healthcare delivery.

The primary goal of IEC 81001-5-1 is to enhance the cybersecurity of health software by implementing specific activities and tasks that secure both the software and the processes used to develop and maintain it. The standard emphasizes integrating cybersecurity measures at every stage of the software lifecycle. Let’s delve into some key aspects:

Risk Management

  • IEC 81001-5-1 mandates a robust risk management process to identify, assess, and mitigate security risks. This involves continuous risk assessment throughout the software lifecycle, ensuring that potential vulnerabilities are addressed proactively.

Secure Development

  • The standard outlines secure coding practices and design principles that developers must follow to minimize security vulnerabilities. It emphasizes building security into the software from the ground up, rather than adding it as an afterthought.

Testing and Assessment

  • Continuous security testing and assessment are critical components of IEC 81001-5-1. This includes regular security audits, vulnerability scanning, and penetration testing to identify and rectify security issues before they can be exploited.

Incident Response

  • IEC 81001-5-1 requires organizations to have robust incident response protocols in place. This includes procedures for detecting, responding to, and recovering from security incidents, ensuring minimal disruption to healthcare services.


  • The standard stresses the importance of ongoing maintenance, including the application of security updates and patches to address new vulnerabilities. Continuous monitoring of the software’s security posture is essential to maintain its integrity over time.

The Importance of IEC 81001-5-1

IEC 81001-5-1 complements other standards such as IEC 62304, which focuses on software safety. While IEC 62304 is concerned with ensuring that software functions safely, IEC 81001-5-1 emphasizes protecting that software from security threats. Additionally, it aligns with IEC 82304-1 and IEC 62443-4-1, integrating broader industrial security standards into healthcare.

Adherence to IEC 81001-5-1 not only signifies a dedication to delivering secure and efficient medical devices but also guarantees compliance with regulatory requirements, including those set forth by the FDA. By integrating this standard into development processes, companies establish a clear framework that navigates regulatory complexities, ensuring conformity with both the MDR and FDA guidelines.

The recognition of IEC 81001-5-1 as a harmonized standard under the Medical Device Regulation (MDR), which is expected in 2024, is very significant for medtech startups. This means that compliance with IEC 81001-5-1 will help organizations in demonstrating compliance with EU regulations and facilitate market access in the EU, as products conforming to recognized standards are more likely to gain regulatory approval.

What Software Does IEC 81001-5-1 Cover?

EC 81001-5-1 focuses on implementing standards for a secure software lifecycle and emphasizes the secure development and maintenance of health software.

Health software is defined by IEC 81001-5-1 as “software intended to be used specifically for managing, maintaining, or improving health of individual persons, or the delivery of care, or which has been developed for the purpose of being incorporated into a medical device.”

Health software includes SaMD,SiMD,SxMD. Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) encompasses stand-alone software intended to be used for medical purposes on its own, without being part of any hardware, while Software in a Medical Device (SiMD) is software that operates as an integral part of a medical device, contributing to its medical functionality.

Additionally, “Health software”, as defined by IEC 81001-5-1, includes stand-alone software that supports health functions, or software that supports the operation of health-related hardware, but does not have a direct medical purpose itself and does not fit the regulatory definition of a medical device. This includes applications like fitness trackers or wellness apps.

Planning for IEC 81001-5-1 Implementation

Implementing IEC 81001-5-1 requires significant resources and thorough planning. Organizations must evaluate their current cybersecurity practices and make necessary adjustments to align with the standard. This includes training staff, updating workflows, and investing in ongoing security monitoring and improvement.

Here are some ways a medtech company can start planning for IEC 81001-5-1 implementation to ensure a smooth transition and ongoing compliance:

  • Assess your organization's current safety and cybersecurity practices, as well as its adherence to related standards such as the MDR, IEC 62443-4-1, and ISO 14971. Identify areas of strength and areas that may require improvement or adjustment.

  • Take the time to thoroughly understand the requirements outlined in IEC 81001-5-1. Familiarize yourself with its structure, key provisions, and how it differs from other standards, particularly in terms of cybersecurity emphasis and expanded scope.

  • Conduct a gap analysis to identify any disparities between your current practices and the requirements of IEC 81001-5-1. Determine what changes or enhancements will be necessary to ensure compliance with the standard.

  • Provide training and education to employees to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities under the new standard. Offer guidance on compliance requirements, best practices, and any changes to existing processes or procedures.

  • Establish mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure ongoing compliance with IEC 81001-5-1. Regularly review and update processes, address any identified deficiencies, and adapt to changes in regulatory requirements or industry best practices.

Awareness of standards like IEC 81001-5-1 is imperative for medtech startups and professionals aiming to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving landscape of medical device security. 


Medtech companies should start preparing now by evaluating current practices, understanding the standard, conducting a gap analysis, and developing a detailed implementation plan. This proactive approach not only helps navigate the complexities of medical device security but also positions medtech companies for sustainable growth and success in a rapidly evolving industry. Learn more about Matrix Requirements and how we can ensure you have all you need in place to ensure optimal cybersecurity.

About the Author
Daniel Kula
Cyber Security Engineer